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Smart Home Weekly: Amazon's Strategy, Alibaba's Entry, Wink Recall, Microsoft Awakens

Mike Wolf

This is the Smart Home Weekly for the week of April 20, 2015.

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It's been a big smart home month for the giants of e-commerce. First it was Amazon with a flurry of connected home news, and just this past week Chinese e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba showed they too are interested in this smart home thing.

The combination of IoT and commerce is going to be big, so none of this should come as a big surprise. What is surprising to some is the way in which Amazon is entering the smart home, choosing to sidestep the building of a new ecosystem entirely while, as one commenter on my recent Amazon smart home strategy analysis put it, use "the train tracks laid by the pick and shovel guys."

Pictured: one savvy CEO

That's right, Amazon is going to be sending lots of services down those train tracks laid by the smart home pioneers while avoiding the risk of launching an entirely new ecosystem. At the same time, they're creating a control layer in the Amazon Echo that will give them pleny of insight into our connected homes. Pretty smart, I'd say.

This 'pioneer' risk was on full display this past week by Wink, who had to issue a recall for some smart home hubs which suffered an Internet connection failure after a security certificate update. While the team over at Wink is doing their best to make this fix painless for their customers, there's no doubt that this is a slight setback for a company (Quirky) that has been launching new products at a breathless pace.

Outside of Amazon, the biggest puzzle for smart home for me has been Microsoft, which has been fairly quiet on this front while their peers have launching platforms and buying companies like crazy. But that may be changing, as this past week shows Redmond may be waking up from it's smart home slumber.

As always, we encourage you to subscribe to the Smart Home Weekly to get all these stories in your inbox every week and listen to the Smart Home Show to hear us talk to the leaders helping to create this market.

On to the analysis.

Breaking Down Amazon's Smart Home Strategy

If you were hoping for a straightforward, ‘here’s our smart home’ announcement from Amazon, you’re out of luck. And unlike others in the space, Amazon’s efforts so far can’t really be summed up easily in a sentence or two. Instead, they’ve put together what appears to be a hodgepodge of random efforts that, at first blush, are difficult to distill down into a cohesive strategy. Read More.

Microsoft Beginning to Awaken From Smart Home Slumber

It's funny, when I'm working with a client to develop a smart home strategy and we discuss potential partners, Microsoft's name is one that always that comes up. It's not that surprising really, since the company was what I would a "first wave" connected home company. Even before the great connected device revolution of the last five years, the company was instrumental in getting Universal Plug and Play off the ground and had a big whole-home connected entertainment play with Media Center and Media Center Extender, all before they finally got a big hit with a little platform called Xbox. Read More

Alibaba Launches Smart Home Division

It looks like Xiaomi has some company. Another Chinese tech giant has announced plans to enter the smart home space. Alibaba, a Chinese online commerce comglomerate, has announced they are creating a 'smart living' business unit.  While early details are sketchy - they indicate they'll sell connected products through their Tmall portal and also offer some cloud computing services and a crowdfunding platform - the announcement is notable in that Alibaba is such a massive player in online commerce. Read More

Seed Labs Launches Bluetooth Smart Home Platform for Manufacturers

In another sure sign the Bluetooth smart home is gaining traction, another manufacturer/dev-targeted platform centered on Bluetooth mesh has launched. Last week at Bluetooth World Seed Labs announced the Silvair platform, which is a combination of embeddable modules, software and a control device called the Silvair Control. With this launch, Seed joins others like Avi-On, who has also built a Bluetooth-centric smart home platform for OEMs. Read More

What's the Long Term Impact of the Wink Hub Recall?

Recalls are never good news. They're costly in both time and money and can bring even the most resource-rich of companies to their knees. While there aren't a lot of case studies for smart home recalls, we can say that with a fair degree of certainty the Nest Protect smoke alarm recall last year knocked a previously untarnished Nest back on its heels a bit and seems to have maybe contributed to a slowed pace of innovation for Google/Nest (they've yet to introduce any new products almost a year and a half after the acquisition was announced). Read More

Smart Lock Funding Frenzy Continues As Unikey Gets $10 Million Series A

Ok, so maybe 'frenzy' is too strong a word, but after August's $38 million series B about two weeks ago, we're seeing some significant validation of the market. I had a chance to talk to Unikey CEO Phil Dumas, and he made it clear the focus of this funding round was on strategic investors rather than traditional VCs: "Although we let some traditional VCs in this round, it was more important for us to bring in strategic investors." Read More

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That's it for this week. Make sure to hear me and Richard Gunther speculate about the Amazon smart home push on the Smart Home Show, and to follow me on Twitter to hear my thoughts on smart home and IoT in realtime during the week. 



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